Maidenform and the Maiden

Posted on July 26, 2012

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In a revolutionary discovery that is rewriting virtually everything we know about history except for the reason for the new TV reality show “Honey Boo Boo,” the University of Innsbruck said Wednesday that archeologists found four linen bras dating from the Middle Ages in an Austrian castle. It was not explained what archeologists were doing rooting around in women’s underwear drawers in an abandoned castle, when they came across the discovery, but, since the owners of the underwear are believed to have been dead for at least 600 years, no charges have been filed.

Fashion experts describe the find as surprising because the bra had commonly been thought to be only little more than 100 years old as women abandoned the tight corset. Instead, it appears the bra came first, followed by the corset, followed by the reinvented bra, which then allowed the birth of Dr 90210.

“This is huge,” said one archeologist, although it was not understood at the time whether he was referring to the bra or the impact of the historic discovery.   One specimen in particular “looks exactly like a (modern) brassiere,” says Hilary Davidson, fashion curator for the London Museum. “These are amazing finds.”

The bra, described as having “two broad shoulder straps and a possible back strap, not preserved but indicated by partially torn edges of the cups onto which it was attached.”

Although the linen garments were unearthed in 2008, they did not make news until now says Beatrix Nutz (her actual name,) the University of Innsbruck archaeologist responsible for the discovery. Researching the items and carbon dating them to make sure they were genuine took some time. Nutz delivered a lecture on them last year but the information stayed within academic circles until a recent article in the BBC History Magazine.

Nutz  says until now, there has been nothing to indicate the existence of bras with clearly visible cups before the 19th century.

“Medieval written sources are rather vague on the topic of female breast support, sometimes mentioning ‘bags for the breasts’ or ‘shirts with bags’,” Nutz says in a statement on the university’s website. Nutz (this blogger has an affinity for writing Nutz’s name) continued, “Other sources only mention breast-bands to bind down oversized breasts.”

The lingerie was apparently not just functional: The bras were intricately decorated with lace and other ornamentation, suggesting they were also meant to please a suitor.

Also found at Lemberg Castle in Tyrol was a linen undergarment that looks very much like a pair of women’s panties. But, contrary to the find looking exactly like modern G-string panties, they are men’s underwear, as underpants were considered a symbol of male dominance and power. Women did not wear anything under their skirts back then. In a related development, archeologists discovered another cabinet filled with size 12, eight inch stiletto heels and a variety of colorful wigs, evening gowns, and a manuscript containing what is believed to be the first version of  the hit song “It’s Raining Men.”

“We are reassessing symbols of medieval male dominance,” one male researcher said.  “This discovery could take a lot of time to examine.  We are committed to personally researching every single item and exploring all possibilities.” To that end, a small group of males will be researching in the now-cordoned off castle for the foreseeable future.

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